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A Gopher For Thanksgiving

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Randy Wilson

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Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday at Rockbottum CC,
mostly because almost every Thanksgiving morning since 1973, we have engaged in a hard-fought, knock ’em down and drag ’em out golf match.

It’s a two-man team, match play event and the rules are simple:  To play, you have to be a Wilson, either in the golf business or a veteran of the golf world, and your partner has to be your brother.  For the first few years, it was known as The Wilson Brothers Championship of the Universe, but it got bigger over time.14th-Annual-TD-Gopher-5-300x225.jpg

Norm teamed up with his brother Bobby, against my own self and my brother Mike.  The winners became Champions of the Universe and the losers endured endless slagging around the Thanksgiving table that afternoon.

the losers endured endless slagging around the Thanksgiving table . . .

Norm and Uncle Bobby had an advantage:  Uncle Bobby had a 140mph practice swing (it slowed down to 50mph when a ball was present) and Dad was a former pro golfer–that’s different from a golf pro–and he could play lights out golf.img033-150x150.jpg

Mike was a tournament golfer in his own right, with numerous junior victories in his wake.  Mike won the Atlanta Junior Golf Association overall at age 16 and carried our team every year.  I contributed a par every so often, due to an attention problem I developed in the early 70s.

In ’78, we won for the first time.  In truth, Mike won by himself, as I had spent two years, seven days a week chainsawing a golf course out of a swamp and my swing was more akin to an axe-wielding barbarian on diet pills than a golfer.

After we won, it was decided the tournament needed a “trophy” and a new name, so a stuffed toy gopher became the coveted prize.  We began to move the event to other courses.  The official tournament name was changed to “The Gopher” and the event soon surpassed The Masters in importance.

soon surpassed The Masters in importance.

A Gopher clubhead cover replaced the stuffed version but it was dethroned by a mechanical gopher capable of dancing and singing, “I’m alright, don’t nobody worry bout me.” A-Gopher-For-Thanksgiving-150x150.jpg That trophy lasted for many years, until Momma blasted its head off with her .50, probably because her scope wasn’t prescription.  The Gopher clubhead cover returned.

The Mike and Randy team won The Gopher every year for decades, always in a manner that tormented Dad and Uncle Bobby.  Like the time Norm and Uncle Bobby went four up in four holes and began to celebrate early, until . . .  Mike  reeled off nine birdies in a row.

The real fun happened when Uncle Bobby was playing good, assured of victory.  Mike would begin playing real golf and if he missed a fairway, somehow I would manage a miracle recovery chip-in shot from the forest and Uncle Bobby would unhinge.  He’d mutter to himself for a couple of holes before suddenly erupting into Tommy Bolt, clubs flying and yelling “I can’t beeeeeleeeeve it!”  Uncle Bobby had the amazing ability to hit a tree with a golf ball, even if it was the only tree on the course.  This would reduce our team to tears of spasmodic laughter–the rolling on the ground kind–and Uncle Bobby would become further inflamed, yelling “Just one little limb! Just a little twig, the only one for miles, and I hit it!”

The Gopher changed forever in 2007, when Uncle Bobby mysteriously died. The doctors were unable to determine exactly what was wrong with him, but I knew what was ailing him:  29 straight Gopher defeats.  I can still hear Uncle Bobby yelling across the 18th fairway, “Well, we’ve done it again, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!”

I can still hear Uncle Bobby yelling . . .

With Uncle Bobby gone, we had to change the rules for entering The Gopher.  We allowed Dad to select an honorary Wilson Brother, as long as the candidate was a Golf Course Superintendent.  Norm teamed up with Johnny Merrick, the GCS at Heron Bay and Sun City near Griffin, Georgia.  Johnny was a good golfer, but simply could not stand the pressure of playing in The Gopher. Johnny-7-150x150.jpg The losing continued.  Johnny was very much like Uncle Bobby, in that he would come completely unscrewed if Mike and Randy mounted a comeback charge.  For us, the entertainment value was priceless.

In 2010, for some reason we never learned, Johnny was unable to continue playing in The Gopher, so we allowed Dad a last minute substitution.  Kerry Phillips, a seasoned low-handicap player who moonlighted as a high school football coach, partnered with Norm and for the first time since ’78, Mike and Randy lost The Gopher.tn.jpeg

We lost it again the next year.  By now, we were calling Coach Phillips, “Uncle Kerry.”

The 2012 Gopher will be different.  Norm died last month.

The 2012 Gopher will be different.  Norm died last month.

But, Dad went down swinging.  

Barely able to walk, he still won his last two Saturday Dogfights at Rockbottum CC, before the cancer took him.  Norm was still preparing for The Gopher, all the way to the end.

The Thanksgiving Gopher will go on, we’ll just have to figure out who will be eligible.  If you are a nervous, highly volatile golfer, let us know and we will send you an application.

This column is in memory of Norm Wilson, CGCS, Pro Golfer, Sergeant First Class, US Army Airborne.SFC-Wilson4-150x150.jpg


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